A Matter of Conscience: An Open Letter to Moderate Republicans

Blogger’s Note: This post is not only long, but upsetting. As the title suggests, I’m writing about politics. If you visit A Napper’s Companion for a lift, you may want to skip what follows. Please know that I feel compelled to share this letter.

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Mr. Trump, tear down this statue. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

February 26, 2016

Dear Moderate Republicans:

“If I were to remain silent,” Albert Einstein said, “I’d be guilty of complicity.” I’m neither a public figure nor a genius, but I borrow the iconic physicist’s words to make clear the reason for this letter. I don’t write as a Lutheran pastor, which I happen to be, but as a regular guy who feels not only sick, but under a moral obligation to speak.

I’m sick that half of the voting Republicans in Nevada believe that Donald Trump is the best available pick for President of the United States—49.6%. Half!

Sick that Trump appears poised to mop up delegates on Super Tuesday, now four days away.

Sick that the two youthful candidates seriously challenging Trump have ironic qualifications. One tried in 2013 to shut down the government he aspires to lead and is by all accounts reviled by his colleagues. The other has essentially given up on his elected responsibilities before his first term of service is finished. Why is he missing about 1/3 of votes? “Because I am leaving the Senate,” he replied, “I am not running for re-election.” If he thinks Senate duty is an insufferable slog, how well suited is he for the Oval Office, really?

Before going on—and you can stop reading any time—I want to qualify the word sick. I’m heartsick. The optimist in me says that most conservatives are troubled with how the Republican primaries are unfolding and embarrassed by the current candidates’ behavior. For what it’s worth, I write in the spirit of loving intervention. What I am compelled to point out pains me, as I have many dear friends who are Republicans, but the matter is urgent.

In less than a year, the next President will take office. What exactly is at stake?

Donald Trump promises to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, one foot taller than the Great Wall of China. “I want it to be so beautiful,” he says, “because maybe someday they’re going to call it the Trump wall.”

If Trump fails to get Mexico to pay for this project, he might fund it by selling the copper lady lifting her torch over New York Harbor. A nation that solves problems with walls won’t have much use for the words on her pedestal:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me.

Of course, a wall by any name may prevent wretched refuse from entering the United States, but it won’t get rid of those already here illegally. Trump remains steadfast in his intention to muster a deportation force, which will track down 11 million undocumented immigrants—a term he rejects as politically correct—and return them to Mexico. That figure is under dispute, but it does notably include the immigrants’ children, who are by law U.S. citizens. Through “good management,” the exodus will be accomplished in a year and a half, maybe two.

Could any compassionate American bear to witness the spectacle from round up to drop off. Picture those flippantly called anchor babies, hundreds of thousands of little kids, herded onto busses with their families and dumped, my God, who knows where. We’re talking about millions of people. What sane adult can’t foresee a humanitarian crisis?

Mark Krikorian, Director for the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, says what some Republicans must be hoping, that Trump’s deportation statements are a “gimmick’: “He’s just making it up as he goes along. Whatever goes into his mind comes out of his mouth. There’s no way to deport 11 or 12 million people in a short period of time.”

I must be a prude where campaign gimmicks are concerned. Blustering about the deportation of what would amount roughly to the populations of New York City and Chicago combined isn’t strategic, it’s obscene.

Maybe other campaign promises are primarily attention getters, too.

Ted Cruz says he’ll carpet bomb ISIS, which sounds hawkishly sexy until you reckon the term’s meaning. Having been corrected, the Texas Senator now knows that he is calling for what Business Insider defines as “large-scale, unguided bombing,” which military experts insist would be a horrible strategy. You don’t remove warts with bulldozers.

Cruz also claims that Trump is actually weaker on immigration than he is. What does that say? “I’ll see your gimmick and raise it by a million . . . people!”

And Rubio, poor Rubio, seems like he is trying to stay out of trouble until voters come to their senses. The Republican Party establishment is hastily huddling around him. If Rubio can find within himself what he lacks, grace under pressure, he offers perhaps the best shot at derailing Trump. In last evening’s debate in Houston, the part-time Florida Senator seemed unscripted, even nimble, in his engagement with the front-runner, so there may be hope.

But time grows short, not only for Republicans, but for all Americans. Sick with the urgency of Super Tuesday, I state directly what is a matter of conscience: setting aside for a moment the criticisms Democrats richly deserve, moderate Republicans need to reclaim their party’s integrity and live up to its claim to be the Party of Lincoln.

I wish these harsh words applied only to the primaries in the months ahead, but the mere conceivability of a Trump or Cruz presidency is the result of Republican conduct in recent years. (Again, I admit that my party’s transgressions are abundant, but Democrats aren’t lustily casting ballots for a candidate who routinely uses vulgar language on the stump and threatens his opposition with frivolous lawsuits.)

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Name that country. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In 2012 Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, one Republican and the other Democrat, published an article in the Washington Post with a provocative title: “Let’s Just Say It: Republicans Are the Problem.” An excerpt summarizes their argument:

“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Examples of Mann and Ornstein’s charges are legion, but for brevity’s sake I’ll limit myself to two.

It’s no secret that Republicans are hell-bent on repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act. All Republican candidates for President are locked and loaded. Gone are the days of accepting congressional votes as laws of the land and moving on—long gone. Since the ACA became law on March 23, 2010, “The House GOP has voted over 50 times to repeal all or parts of the health bill. Almost all of the bills died in the Senate” (AP report). Any bill reaching the President’s desk would get a swift veto. In other words, the House has held over four dozen symbolic votes, which seem little more than a silly waste of time until you consider what a House vote costs taxpayers. CBS News estimated in 2013, when the symbols stood at 33, that each vote cost about $1.45 million. So today, $1,450,000 x 50 = $72,500,000. Contemplate this. We’re talking about $75 million-worth of chest puffing and foot stomping, and we funded it. What’s more, we all know the definition of insanity (never mind understanding and accepting mathematical facts).

The other example I’ll mention of toxic Republican conduct is fresh, not yet played out. Antonin Scalia’s body was still warm—only a slight exaggeration—when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a replacement shouldn’t be named until after a new President takes office. A couple days ago Senate Republican leaders announced that shouldn’t has solidified into won’t. The New York Times reports McConnell’s edict: “This nomination will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the polls. I agree with the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that we not have hearings. In short, there will not be action taken.”

Why not? When I sort through the answers, what I hear is Bartleby the Scrivener’s response: “I would prefer not to.” Or “you can’t make me.”

So this is where we stand. The constitutional and traditional duties of governance can be simply waved off. Given the strategy of obstruction employed by Republicans since President Barack Hussein Obama took office in 2009, should anyone be surprised that the party establishment is betting its farm on a Senator who shirked his responsibilities before the paint in his Capital Hill office was dry?

In fact, the thus-far successful candidacy of Donald Trump is built upon the Republican Party’s recent performance reduced to a sophomoric gesture. Conservative columnist Michael Gerson calls the front-runner’s way “the political philosophy of the middle finger.” These are words, not mine:

This philosophy “assumes that practices we know are wrong in our private lives—contempt, mockery, cruelty, prejudice—are somehow justified in our political lives. It requires us to embrace views and tactics that we would never teach our children—but do, in fact, teach them through ethically degraded politics. Imagine your teenage son (or daughter, for that matter) calling a woman a ‘fat pig,’ ‘dog,’ ‘disgusting animal’ or ‘bimbo.’ Imagine your child labeling someone he or she knows as a ‘loser,’ ‘moron’ or ‘dummy.’

This is the evidence of poor character, in any context. For Christians, the price of entry to the Trump movement is to abandon their commitments to kindness and love of neighbor. Which would mean their faith has no public consequence at all.

I can imagine how maddening it must be to feel lectured about something as massive and abstract as one’s political party, but I risk being a scold for the sake of conscience. Hardly ever do I hear Republicans admitting that their party’s actions in recent years have done great damage and their leading candidate for the highest office in the land is unacceptable. (And, now, endorsed by Chris Christie. I’m stunned.)

Any effective intervention begins with accepting responsibility. As a private citizen and a Democrat—and out of love for you and country—I call upon moderate Republicans for the moment to resist attacking me and accept their party’s role in our current national situation.

And I promise to take seriously any appropriately-worded, well-substantiated criticism of the Democratic Party. My party may well need an intervention, which I’ll endure with a light heart, on one condition: given present circumstances, you go first, please.

Respectfully yours,

John Coleman

Erie, Pennsylvania

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15 thoughts on “A Matter of Conscience: An Open Letter to Moderate Republicans

  1. OK, John, I really like this piece, but it’s embarrassing. The day I give in to the gremlin and poke fun at the show, you demonstrate that you not only know the subject more thoroughly, but also have the stomach to actually watch and digest the political debates. Out of my league, but definitely accurate.

    • Thanks, Vince, but I have to confess to not actually seeing much of the debates. We don’t have cable, but I watch a lot of network news and read a lot of pundits. Not sure it’s the best use of time, but I somehow oddly enjoy the torture–except right now. This current shit is painful. Peace, John

  2. Pingback: Words from the Dead in a Frightening Season | A Napper's Companion

    • Thanks, Kim. I’ll be sure to stop by your blog. Yeah, the only changes now are some fisticuffs. Such fun, ay? Peace and best, John

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